What The New NSA Directorate Means
The NSA has garnered a lot of ill will in the past couple years, and rightly so. The agency responsible for widespread clandestine surveillance of both the American people and international allies of the nation has caused massive amounts of public distrust in the agency and its programs, and in the wake of all of that the NSA has decided to reorganize, a move that is likely to cause more distrust. But what does the new Directorate mean, and what should the public expect from it?
The major move being made in the NSA’s reorganization plan is the merging of its Signals Intelligence Directorate and its Information Assurance Directorate into a single Directorate of Operations. The former currently deals with what would widely be considered spying activities, while the latter currently looks at what is categorized as domestic protection.
The new single directorate will be put in place under a two year plan, with the NSA announcing its hopes that the new plan will better address national security threats with a particular focus on cyber missions. In addition to Operations, five more directorates will be created, refocusing the NSA on conducting research.
The move was a long time coming before the public announcement, and will reorganize much of the NSA workforce along with the directorate titles and operations. It also goes directly against a suggestion made shortly after Edward Snowden’s leaks. At the time, the President’s Review Group argued that the Information Assurance Directorate become a separate agency under the Department of Defense due to its function in protecting domestic, particularly cyber, information. The Review Group found it to run counter to the rest of the NSA’s espionage work, but despite worries about conflicts of interest, the Directorate will be merged rather than removed from its spying counterpart.
No move the NSA could make after the Snowden leaks would have been considered a satisfactory response, and for that reason public mistrust is already coming through regarding the announcement. Behind the breadth of criticisms, though, there is one major concern that both valid and repeated. That concern is that there is a conflict of interest within the two goals of this now single directorate.
The Information Assurance Directorate is largely involved with our nation’s cyber security, and it is their job to beef up and reinforce security standards. The Signals Intelligence Directorate, on the other hand, is able to accomplish more when security standards elsewhere are weaker. If the IAD promotes the adoption of more robust cyber security at home, those standards will eventually move on to other regions, making it more difficult for the SID to do its job fully and completely. Having the two directorates separate at least gave the sense that each was able to operate without direct influence of the other. Now that they are one in the same, there is widespread concern over which objective will win out in the end, the international offensive or the domestic defense.